Using music in the languages classroom
- Music lyrics are a good source of comprehensible input
- Music is a good way in to cultural aspects of France and French-speaking countries
- Singing can help learners memorise material
- Singing is active and fun
- Singing can relax learners, make them comfortable about using the foreign language
- Singing is a good controlling activity; it has a calming effect and everyone is busy
What can you do with music?
Beginners and near beginners
- Songs with actions – give pupils something to do. Actions can serve as memory-joggers and can be used to reinforce vocabulary and structures.
- Simple verb chanting to familiar tunes accompanied by moving arms to indicate the personal pronoun work well with beginners. Try Mission Impossible theme with aller, Here We go Round the Mulberry Bush for être. (YouTube has quite a few verb conjugations set to music.)
- At a slightly higher level pupils can sing Alouette and point at parts of the body. Singing numbers with clapping can work well: sing scales with numbers in different orders and ask pupils to clap on certain numbers.
- Do a French hakka to a backing track
- Singing raps
- Do tongue twisters to a backing track or easy tune
- Singing lists to well-known tunes e.g. days of the week to The Flintstones theme or Camptown Races; the alphabet to an American army marching tune; the song Quelle est la Date de ton Anniversaire – where pupils stand up and sit down when their month of birth is mentioned in the song? (from Un Kilo de Chansons – a familiar collection to many French teachers)
- Singing well-known tunes with made-up lyrics. Try a daily routine to the tune of Uptown Girl
- Singing rounds. The classic example is Frère Jacques
- Singing Christmas songs. YouTube is a good source. Easy examples are Douce Nuit (Silent Night) and Vive le vent (Jingle Bells)
- If you play guitar or keyboard students may enjoy hearing you perform or join in with you
It is worth mentioning that not all pupils enjoy singing, some classes are reserved and some pupils sing really badly!
When choosing songs for more advanced students bear in mind the following factors:
- Are the lyrics clear? Don’t underestimate how hard it is for students to pick up words, especially with accompanying music
- Are the lyrics of interest to the students in your class?
- Is the style of music likely to please students. (But be prepared to open their minds to musical styles they may not have encountered – we are educating young people!)
- Is the tune memorable enough for them to be humming or singing by the end of the lesson?
Once you have chosen your song, what can you do with it? Here are some ideas:
- Give students the title of the song and ask them to predict what type of vocabulary they are going to hear. Ask them what type of song they think it might be
- Make a transcript of the song then cut it up and jumble up the lines so that they are out of order. Students listen to the song and simply tick the lines as they hear them or reassemble them in the correct order.
- Give students a number of symbols that represent the meaning of the song, but in the wrong order. Ask students to reorder them so that they are in the correct order for the song
- Use gap fills if you want students to listen out for particular vocabulary or grammatical structures e.g. the perfect tense. Filling gaps is no doubt the most common activity undertaken with songs. It forces students to listen carefully for detail. They may be amused if you replay short sections numerous times. This is good ear training.
- Give students a short list of words and ask them to note down how many times they hear each word
- Give students a set of lyrics with deliberate (plausible) errors in. They have to underline where the errors are and then, later, insert the correct words
- Split sentences from the song in half and ask students to match the sentence halves before they listen, then to check their answers by listening
- Discuss the themes of the song, if appropriate
- Once students are familiar with the song, get them to sing along with you
- Students can do follow-up research on the singer and perhaps produce a PowerPoint presentation
Here is a genuinely brilliant site called Lyrics Training with which advanced students can listen to songs and do gap fills interactively at various levels:
This scholarly article by Pauline Degrave examines the use of music and song in language classrooms.
This detailed blog post by Gianfranco Conti goes into detail about how songs may be exploited to the full.
Martin Lapworth’s TeachVid site has examples of songs where parallel translations in English are supplied, along with exercises to manipulate the language of the song.
Over the years I enjoyed using songs by Francis Cabrel, Maxime LeForestier and Florent Pagny. They have very clear diction and their songs are lyrically interesting. For the record my favourite songs have been:
La Corrida (Cabrel ) - a dramatic denunciation of bull fighting
Madame X (Cabrel) - a touching ballad about poverty
Hors Saison (Cabrel) - a haunting evocation of lost love
Savoir Aimer (Pagny) – a powerful song about the nature of love
San Francisco (LeForestier) – hippy memories of friends in San Francisco